Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Snowblind Studios

Memo to Snowblind Studios: YOU ARE DUMB.
Seriously. What the fuck were you thinking? Because I just got to the end of your "Champions of Norrath" game, and I swear, it's like you all went out to Jack In The Box to celebrate getting the contract for the new Everquest hack-n-slash game, and you got an entire batch of burgers made with EXTRA CANNIBAL COW PRIONS. And by the time you were coding the end of the game, you were adding "Special thanks to 'Sparky' Creutzfeldt and 'Pizza Run' Jakob for making this game possible" to the credits.
I could, and did, live with the niggling annoyances that permeated your otherwise attractive and entertaining game. For example, the up-to-ten-second delay between the trigger for a voice sample and the voice sample actually playing. Or when the game would lock up when loading a new area. Since it only locked up a few times, and when it did, you could pop the disc drawer open and closed and it would fix it, I let it go. Water off a duck's back.
I sat through interminable cutscenes full of bad and laggy voice acting just to get the tiny bit of useful information at the end of them. I even endured the fact that the game has save and check points, even though it creates an automatic check point every time you enter a new area, and can teleport back to a save point any time you want to. Because killing stuff is fun, and you kill a lot of stuff in Champions of Norrath.
See, for those who don't know, in a "hack-n-slash" game, your lone hero progresses through a fantasy world of dungeons and monsters, hacking and slashing his way through them. Diablo, Gauntlet, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, Dungeon Siege... all games in this genre. Of course, in an homage to Joystick Joe Lieberman and his ilk, I prefer to call these games Genocide Simulators, since you progress through an area, and in this area are about three species, and when you leave that area, every single representative of those species is worm food.
The point is, you end up doing the same kind of thing over and over again, only everything keeps getting bigger. Your character, your weapons, your armor, your enemies... it all escalates. And in Champions of Norrath, they decided that, along with all the other things that progress in an RPG of this type, the level of incompetence and mental deficiency would climb right along with them.
Let me spoil some of the end of the game for you, because you shouldn't play it. Things really start breaking down when you hit the Plane of Hate, the last section of the game. It's a dumb name, but it's an Everquest game, so the dumbness here is a pre-existing condition not covered by this column. You hit the Plane of Hate, and the big bad guy tries to kill you. I think. There's a weird camera cut during this pivotal cutscene, but he makes you fall in lava or liquid hate or some damn thing.
But you are saved. By a goddess. From the Plane of Air, a glowing white realm equivalent to heaven. And after explaining how she saved you, and how you must return to the Plane of Hate to save all of Norrath, she says, "Please take these gifts." At which point, she turns into... a shopkeeper.
You see, in each of the five sections of the game, there is a shopkeeper. He keeps the shop. The shop is where you sell your stuff, although your stuff never ends up in the shop after you get paid for it. It's also where you buy stuff, most of which changes randomly every single time you load the area where the shopkeeper lives. In the first area, he's a guy in a well-populated village. In the second area, he's a guy in a slightly less populated village. In the third area, he's one of two residents of an entirely deserted chain of islands. In the fourth area, he's a guy in an otherwise empty village in the middle of the underworld. And in the fifth area, she's a goddess. And the "gifts" she offers you? You gotta PAY FOR THEM.
Why do that? Why, if you must make a goddess a shopkeeper, give her dialogue that makes no sense? I think they did it as a warning. As foreshadowing. Like a head on a pike, or a note on a map that says "Here, there be DUMBNESS."
You need the warning, because about an hour later, after escorting the souls of six to seven cowardly mentally ill drunk people (I have to assume, based on their behavior) to their final resting place, you must free the half-naked chick who's been appearing to you in bad cutscene visions throughout the game. And you do this by smashing five rocks while being chased by the Ultimate Evil, who you can't hurt, but who can hurt you. And if he hits you twice, and you die, the game ends. Unlike the ENTIRE REST OF THE GAME, you don't get to start from where the level loaded. For no good reason whatsoever, you have to start from your last save.
This means that, every time you die, you have to: wait for the stupid epilogue to load, skip the stupid epilogue, wait for the main menu to come up, load your save game, wait for the Plane of Air to load, walk from the Plane of Air save to the Plane of Air portal (farther than it should be), wait for the Cauldron of Hate to load, skip the useless cutscene panning over the Cauldron of Hate, walk from one end of the Cauldron of Hate around a giant pool of fire that plays no role in the game to a door, wait for Innoruuk's Lair to load, and skip one more cutscene.
There's no reason for it. It adds nothing to the gameplay. It makes no sense whatsoever. It is the act of either a sadist, an incompetent, or a sadistic incompetent. I play games so that I can waste my time, not so the game can waste my time for me. And if you get through that, there's a similar pointless ordeal to go through once you're actually fighting the Ultimate Evil, who kills you even faster now that he's vulnerable.
So to all you aspiring game designers, learn your lesson. Lay off the cheap beef. Lay off the crack pipe. Don't be like Snowblind. Don't be DUMB.